Ronn Torossian, CEO, 5WPR
Another week, another prominent business person endures a PR crisis because of a tweet. This time, it’s Greg Glassman, founder and CEO of CrossFit taking hits over something he posted on social media. When the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation account tweeted: “Racism is a public health issue,” adding the quip: “It’s Floyd-19.”
Once again, a comment meant to be taken as a joke, did not play that way when read by Twitter users, many of whom have been engaged in the serious and ongoing cultural conversation around race in America. The quip was seen as flippant and dismissive, as making light of a scenario that many, both in and out of law enforcement, consider to be a clear case of murder by a police officer.
Since the uproar over the tweet, Glassman has apologized, for himself and for his company, saying, “(We) will not stand for racism. I made a mistake by the words I chose. My heart is deeply saddened by the pain it has caused. It was a mistake, not racist, but a mistake…”
The apology came, but not soon enough, apparently, to save one of the company’s marquee contracts. Reebok had been in the process of negotiating a new contract with CrossFit when the tweet was published. Seeing the response, Reebok spokespeople reached out to the Associated Press with this statement: “Our partnership with CrossFit HQ comes to an end later this year… Recently, we have been in discussions regarding a new agreement, however, in light of recent events, we have made the decision to end our partnership with CrossFit HQ. We will fulfill our remaining contractual obligations…”
As this statement made headlines, gyms across the country took to social media to announce their intentions to terminate their business relationship with the CrossFit brand. While there’s no news, yet, as to how many gyms have chosen to stop supporting the brand or distance their business from CrossFit, no matter the number, remember that all of this started because of one tweet that was clearly meant as an off-hand joke.
Except, many of the people who saw it were in no mood for comedy. They don’t appreciate this issue being made light of, and they are very willing to vote with their voices and their wallets. So, this needs to be said again: Brands must be very careful with what is put out on social media in their name. By their very nature, the platforms exist outside of tone and context. Intent is not considered, only content. Once someone with enough influence defines the nature of a tweet, it’s tough to unring that bell.
At this point, it doesn’t matter if Glassman is racist or if he meant the tweet in a demeaning or disrespectful way. His brand is associated with something that the target audience will not tolerate, and his company is taking hits because of it. In all likelihood, this kind of thing will happen again, but it doesn’t have to happen to you.